Excerpted from Lake People by Abi Maxwell. Copyright © 2013 by Abi Maxwell. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
“Woven with secrets, danger, and a family history both magical and dark, Lake People held me spellbound until the last haunting page.” —Amy Greene, author of Bloodroot
“Skillfully executed. . . . Redolent of the secrets that haunt small-town life…. Suggests comparison to authors like Marilynne Robinson and Alice Munro” —Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Beautifully precise. . . . In Lake People, secrets are kept, secrets are told: Abi Maxwell . . . turns experiences into myths and locales into symbols.” —Jane Smiley, Harper's
“Readers who love deep, dark, rich, multi-character, multi-generation literary novels will gobble up this one like a case of their favorite bonbons.” —The New York Journal of Books
“A stunning book that captivated me completely. . . . A beautiful offering from a talented local writer who shows enormous promise as a first-rate novelist.” —Paul Collins, The Telegraph (Nashua, NH)
“I read this novel almost without stopping—it’s a riveting book, with quiet lyrical power. It’s also inventive, wonderfully strange, hard-headed, and genuinely enchanting. A very impressive debut.” —Joan Silber, author of National Book Award finalist Ideas of Heaven
“Full of missing family, Maxwell’s debut novel begins and ends with Alice. . . . Maxwell’s writing has a whispery, brooding, atmospheric feel that conveys Alice’s fragility while capturing both the lushness of the region and its claustrophobic effect on Alice. . . . Compelling.” —Library Journal
“Lake People is intricate, lovely and wise. Abi Maxwell trusts her stories and her talent, and the result is that rarity among first novels—one that possesses the substance and burnish of a classic.” —Deirdre McNamer, author of Red Rover
“A powerful sense of place pervades Maxwell’s accomplished debut . . . . Luminous.” —Booklist
“Lake People is one of the most astonishing novels I have read in a decade. Abi Maxwell steps into the literary world with a book that rivals Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping.” —Debra Magpie Earling, author of Perma Red
1. Many novels have been written about family and family history. The search for self-acceptance and self-knowledge is also a major theme in Western literature. In what ways does Lake People offer a distinctive treatment of these subjects and themes? What is most fresh and surprising about the novel—about the story it tells and the way it tells it?
2. What is the effect of the way the narrative shifts time frames? Why might Abi Maxwell have chosen this structure rather than a more straightforwardly chronological narrative?
3. What role does the lake play in the novel? Does it exert some supernatural power over those who live near it, and over Eleonora’s family in particular? Or is the lake’s power merely a projection of unconscious fears and wishes? Or is there some other explanation for the gravitational pull it seems to exert?
4. Why do Alice’s grandparents give her up? How does this feeling of not being wanted affect Alice throughout the rest of her life?
5. What role does social class play in the novel?
6. What is the significance of Alice falling into the ocean at the very moment her foster mother sees a whale emerging from it? Why would her mother think that her infant disappearing just as the whale appeared added “some order to the mystery” (p. 72)?
7. How does the story of Devnet and the death of George Collins—which twelve-year-old Alice witnesses and then revisits twenty-four years later—relate to the rest of the novel?
8. In what ways are secrets important in the novel? Who keeps secrets and why? What is the effect of revealing or discovering the truth?
9. Why does Kenneth intercept Simon and Alice’s letters? Why does Rose burn them? Is it chance or fate that brings Alice and Simon together again?
10. Why does Alice make such inappropriate choices of lovers in Mike Shaw and Josh? What is she trying to get from them? In what ways does it feel right that she finds her way in the end, and after many obstacles, to Simon?
11. Near the end of the novel, Alice thinks: “Now, as I walk through this town, I wonder just how many people know my story, and how it is possible that in all these years, no one has ever thought to tell it to me” (p. 198). Why haven’t the townspeople told Alice what they know about her past? Why hasn’t Alice asked more directly? Is there something necessary in her discovering who she is in the way she does?
12. The final paragraphs of Lake People point to a mystical experience. Alice says: “I could believe that all of us, and the journey I had just taken, had never existed and would always exist” (p. 210). What does she mean by this? How can it be true that something had never existed and would always exist?
13. How are readers to understand Alice’s journey over the frozen lake to the “Witches” and her encounter with the bear-woman? She feels certain it really happened, but if so, it violates the laws of ordinary reality. How can this seeming paradox be resolved or accepted?
14. In many ways, Alice has been searching for home throughout the novel. Why does she come to feel that the lake is her home and to see herself as “a child of that water, and not the unwanted infant that I truly was” (p. 205)? How does knowing the true story of her life help Alice accept herself?